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Rattlers’ defense can’t hold late lead in loss to Wichita Falls

Rattlers RB Ketrich Harmon (42) uncorks a 33-yard run in the first quarter of a 60-53 loss to the Wichita Falls Nighthawks Saturday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena. (Photo: Vince Marotta/Arizona Sports)

PHOENIX — Complete efforts have eluded the Arizona Rattlers during their first six or so weeks as members of the Indoor Football League.

Either the offense shows up while the defense struggles or vice versa.

That scenario unfolded again Saturday night. Arizona’s offense put up seven touchdowns, achieved a nice run-pass balance and held the ball for over 38 minutes, but the defense squandered a late lead, allowing a 6-yard touchdown pass from Charles McCullum to Jordan Jolly with just three seconds left in a 60-53 loss to the Wichita Falls Nighthawks at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

Arizona (2-3) fell behind by two touchdowns early, but fought their way back into the game. In fact, the Rattlers led 53-45 with under seven minutes to play when Cody Sokol found Demarius Washington on a 5-yard scoring strike. But Wichita Falls (5-1) answered loudly. McCullum hit Troy Evans on a 30-yard scoring strike 1:43 later and tied the score with a two-point conversion.

The Rattlers then missed an opportunity to regain the lead when Sawyer Petre pushed a 43-yard field goal attempt wide right with under two minutes to go. McCullum then guided the Nighthawks on a decisive seven-play, 45-yard scoring drive to seal the game.

Head coach Kevin Guy didn’t hold his tongue concerning his team’s performance following the loss, which snapped a two-game winning stretch.

“I’m very disappointed on how we played defensively,” Guy said. “For whatever reason, we’re not getting it done. We’ll look at the tape, I’m not going to say anything until I see the tape, but the bottom line was it looked like we really struggled to cover their receivers.”

Guy’s first-blush assessment was spot-on. McCullum completed 20-of-27 passes for 256 yards and seven touchdowns on the night — spread out between five different recipients. Arizona’s defense allowed points on every one of Wichita Falls’ second-half possessions.

There were positives on offense, however. Sokol, who played at Desert Vista High School and Scottsdale Community College, played decently in his first start at any professional level. The 25-year-old threw a costly interception on the Rattlers’ second drive, but bounced back to complete 15-of-28 throws for 224 yards and four touchdowns.

“I think after that second drive, I settled down a bit and really got my rhythm,” Sokol said.

Sokol found out he’d start during the week of practice despite Darron Thomas leading the Rattlers to wins in their last two games, including a 30-29 road triumph last week in Green Bay. Guy thought the Rattlers should have had an easier time with the Blizzard and said there were throws missed and points left out there, prompting him to make the change. Thomas didn’t dress for the game.

Despite Sokol’s promising night, Guy wasn’t ready to commit to him for next week’s road tilt against the Nebraska Danger.

Another bright spot was running back Ketrich Harmon’s night. The bruising back had 122 yards on 20 carries and found the end zone twice.

“We had a great day running the ball,” Harmon said. “The guards did a great job blocking. I got to the second level, untouched most of the time.”

Guy is coaching a roster that was nearly completely rebuilt after the Rattlers’ run of dominance in the Arena Football League that netted three league championships and another title game appearance in a five-year span starting in 2012. He’s not all that pleased with where the revamped roster is right now.

“We lost tonight, so we’re not close at all,” he said, when asked how close his team is to being consistent. “We’ve got to figure out how to win close games.
We’re not going to make excuses, like I said, we’ll look at the tape, make corrections and try to build off it.”

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